Earlier this month, you asked questions of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy executive producer Robbie Stamp. Robbie's been kind enough to answer more than the usual number of questions, and has provided much interesting information about the casting, Douglas Adams' influence, and more -- read on below for his answers.
In my opinion, what made Douglas Adams' H2G2 books special was their combination of light-hearted wacky humor with a quite serious undercurrent of bitter socio-philosophical commentary. The movie trailers look as if they capture the light-hearted wacky humor, but my big concern is that the movie will fail to capture and blend in Adams' commentary on society. And as others have pointed out, with Disney involved somehow in the making or distribution of the movie, I doubt the suits would have let much bitter or deep underlying social commentary into the film. Do you think you actually correctly identified, related to, and captured in film format the social commentary aspect of Adams' writing? Adams had a George Carlin-esque approach that was key: he pointed out the asinine flaws in mainstream human thinking and behavior, which are things we all notice but few dare to explicitly point out or belittle. To lose that would be an artistic shame.
Robbie Stamp: Firstly I want to say thanks for the opportunity to answer these questions but also to apologise for taking so long to get to them. We have the World Wide Premiere tonight and its all been a little busy.
To the questions!
What a great question to answer first - I am doing a lot of interviews at the moment and nobody has asked me this one before. (Update - since beginning my draft reply to this question and doing 68 interviews in a single day, I was asked this by one or two journalists on Sunday.) I think that much of the social commentary is kept in the Guide entries. I think that Douglas had a fascination with and horror of bureaucracy which runs through much of his writing. His views on organised religion are well known and the development of the Humma Kuvala sub-plot (which Douglas initiated) into a full blown look at the religion, which is based on the belief that we have all been sneezed into existence by the Great Green Arklesiezure, is based on those views. In Slartibartfast's conversation with Arthur on the Planet Factory Floor, we have some of my favourite lines in the movie about human thinking and behaviour, especially the line about "paranoia."
Which character was the hardest to Cast?
RS: I think we probably spent longest over the voice of the Guide itself and in the end came back to somebody who was one of the people Douglas himself had wanted, namely Stephen Fry.
How did Martin Freeman become Arthur Dent?
This is true: two years ago I was watching "The Office" at a co-worker's house (I'd never watched a whole episode before), and realized that Martin Freeman struck me -- out of the blue - as exactly the way I would have expected a real-life Arthur Dent to look, gesture and sound, right down to the mooning for Dawn, and the look of frustrated annoyance that he occasionally beams at (or rather just past) Gareth. At the time (having no head for celebrity news), I didn't realize he'd been cast already as Arthur, and figured some other, well-meaning but inferior actor had been cast in that role. "It's too bad that they're already shooting 'Hitchhikers,'" I said, "because that guy *is* Arthur! Anyone else will pale in comparison to the flesh-and-blood Arthur who is playing Tim in this bizarre English-type sit-com!"
My better-informed co-worker let me in on the good news, and my casting prowess was confirmed (to me, anyhow). However, I'm curious how he came to the attention of the film's makers -- or was it vice versa? Was it because of his role in The Office, or was it his idea, or what? Was he already an Adams fan, or was this just happenstance?
RS: The Office was such a big hit in the UK that you couldn't really have missed Martin Freeman as Tim. I know that he was one of Garth's earliest ideas for casting. When I saw his audition tape and saw him deliver the line "It must be Thursday, I never could get the hang of Thursdays," I was sure we had found our Arthur - Garth and Nick of course knew that all along!
Why the decision to go with an almost totally American leading cast?
by Nothing Special
Other big book to movie adaptations (Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings) did outstanding with a fully British, and very mixed (respectively) cast. Was this by design to win over American audiences, or studio pressure, or just because they were the best auditioned actors these right roles? and also, were they the 1st choice for the roles. NOTE: I love Sam Rockwell, Mos Def and Zooey Deschanel, so these are not to be taken critically.
RS: I know that I have said this elsewhere but it's important, so it's worth repeating. Douglas himself is on record as saying that as far as he was concerned the only character who had to be British, indeed English, was Arthur Dent. As far as he was concerned everything else was up for grabs. Looking over his casting ideas over the very long period that the movie was in development he was always thinking of an American Zaphod and Ford and had a number of American actresses in mind for Trillian too. If this was OK by Douglas it was OK with us.
Working with Disney?
It seemed that a lot of the reason that Hammer and Tongs was chosen to do this film was their unique style, and in a lot of ways, it works with Douglas Adams' creative vision. However, it's being distributed by Touchstone Pictures, a division of the Walt Disney Corporation, and the quirky nature of Hammer and Tongs doesn't seem like it'd mesh with the culture at Disney. Additionally, I'd imagine the "suits" would have a lot of problems with a faithful treatment of Adams' work. My question: how was the working relationship between the filmmakers and Disney (Touchstone)? Were there elements of the movie that were cut by Disney because they "just didn't get it," or were they pretty supportive of the decisions made by the filmmakers?
RS: I know that I would have been nervous about a big Studio ( though again remember that Douglas himself was always quite clear and determined about wanting a big Studio to make HHGG and it was he who signed the deal with Disney back in 1998). Once Disney and Spyglass had chosen Garth and Nick (who we found through Jay Roach via Spike Jonze) they were actually very consistent about allowing them to do what makes them different. The movie does not look like standard studio fare. At the outset, I was interested to see whether somehow the system would just gradually and almost reflexively squeeze the life out of N&G, thus negating the very creativity that the studio had embraced in the first place, but they didn't. I think that a lot of fans would be surprised to know just how much of a free hand we have been given in the making of this movie. I know how easy it is to see every decision to cut a scene as "studio" pressure but it was always much more to do with pacing and rhythm in the film itself.
Effect of the BBC television production?
I was a big fan of the early '80s BBC TV show and enjoyed the characters in it. When I think of Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent, I think of those guys. As you were making the film, how much of an influence was the television production on the film, particularly with regard to the casting and portrayal of the characters but also with regard to production design?
RS: I think it would be honest to answer this question by saying "not very much." I think that the books and the radio series with their own "word pictures" were a much bigger influence. There are however some cameo appearances from one or two folks who featured in the TV series.
What was the driving inspiration behind the look for the movie version of Marvin? Fans are all aware of the "brain the size of a planet" lament, but what's with that giant round head? A new play on words? For laffs? Because all the other MP3 players seem to be going with that look nowadays?
RS: Well the clue to this one is in your question - "brain the size of a planet", many of which are round and "giant round head!" We also quite liked that he was small enough to be looked down on by the other characters. The design of his eyes is taken straight from the book.
What held up the project for so long?
Douglas Adams has likened getting a movie made in Hollywood to "trying to grill a steak by having a succession of people coming into the room and breathing on it." Given the considerable success of his books and their large following, why wasn't a film adaptation released earlier? What hurdles had to be overcome?
RS: Ah! The big one. I'm going to give a very short answer to this - it was getting a script that worked as a movie that took the time.
Which changes were Adams' decisions?
Consider: Every "incarnation" of tHHGttG has had variations such that no two are alike. Not including this one, Douglas Adams had a direct hand from start to finish of each version, so one cannot make remarks about accuracy or authenticity. While DNA started this one, he was taken from us before its completion. So, my question is: Which "divergences" in this version were done (under the guidance of) Douglas Adams and which (if any) were done by other folks after his passing. FWIW, I plan to ignore the critics and go see this film with a child-at-Christmas expectation. It should be great Eye Candy if nothing else.
RS: The script we shot was very much based on the last draft that Douglas wrote. I was also able to make available to Jay Roach and Karey Kirkpatrick many back story notes and ideas from Douglas' hard drive and Karey also had of course the book and the radio series to work with. All the substantive new ideas in the movie, Humma, the Point of View Gun and the "paddle slapping sequence" on Vogsphere are brand new Douglas ideas written especially for the movie by him. Karey came to be in awe of Douglas' genius and saw his role as primarily structural. Even the enhanced relationship between Arthur and Trillian (in which people seem to have detected the hand of the Studio) was something that Douglas was working on as well. As you yourself recognise in your question, Douglas was always up for reinventing HHGG in each of its different incarnations and he knew that working harder on some character development and some of the key relationships was an integral part of turning HHGG into a movie.
Choosing your sources?
There are many, many versions of "The Hitchiker's Guide" out there. There's the radio series, the books, the TV series, the computer game, the tea towel (!) and even a vinyl record version. In the end, how did you choose, from this range of sources, what sort of Hitch Hiker's Guide you actually wanted to make?
RS: The basis is very much the book but the towel has been a major influence as well.
by Viking Coder
Peter Jackson reportedly said that he got the inspiration to work on Lord of the Rings when he finally realized that no one else was going to do it. What motivated you to get involved with Hitchhiker's? And secondly, what project would you love to see someone do?
RS: I wanted to stay with making the movie after Douglas died because I knew just how desperately Douglas wanted to see HHGG become a film. His family felt the same thing. I think we were all aware that in some ways the desire to see a film version of HHGG join the canon of works, over shadowed much of the latter part of Douglas' life. He was an enormously creative man ( there are dozens of brand new Douglas ideas for movies and TV especially, which are yet to see the light of day) but the film, always the film, seemed to prevent him from really getting stuck into them. I think that those closest to him, felt that if we could get the movie made, it would be a vindication of Douglas' belief in HHGG as a movie.
I'd like to see more Douglas ideas on screen!
BTW I once worked ( with the knowledge of the Tolkien Estate) on a fourteen part TV adaptation of Lord of the Rings, to be filmed in New Zealand with Tilda Swinton to play Galadriel! Then another version gained some momentum!
Who's the filn for?
In making the film, was it ever a consideration to create a film that will appeal to people who have never read the books or heard the radio broadcasts? In making adaptations from literary works, especially ones with rich, stand alone universes, much time is spent on exposition of material that is well known to anyone who has read the works. While needed for people unfamiliar with the milieu, exposition rarely makes for riveting entertainment. But then again, so many people have read the books or heard the broadcasts, who actually makes the decision? Is it just left up to the screen adaptor?
RS: I know that Douglas wanted to reach out to new audiences with the movie ( we talked about it often) but we all felt that the best way of doing this was to be as true to the essence of the material as we could and hope that that would attract those new fans. The early signs are that people who don't know the material are loving the movie. I think that the problem of exposition would have been there whether you were making a movie solely for the existing fans or trying to reach out to new fans.
The decision was made initially by Douglas really as he had already cut down on the exposition hugely in his last script.
Rebutting the critics?
Could you please respond to the review located here, in particular rebutting the parts that suggest the movie is poor in quality, is a travesty, or is otherwise unworthy of the name HHGTTG?
RS: Aha! I did a web chat recently and was asked this question and said that I was genuinely sad that Mike felt the way he did about the movie and I still feel that way. I am sure that he would much rather have written a positive review having loved the movie, but he clearly hasn't and he clearly didn't!
I am not going to rebut specific points ( to be honest I could not face reading the whole multi thousand word critique and the list of what we have left out) but did read the synopsis and that was pretty strong meat. If Mike's had been representative of all the fans I know who have seen the movie then I would be a very worried man. Indeed I would be looking for a hideaway somewhere very remote without any internet access for a few years. But thankfully of people who have actually seen the film, whose opinions I really respect, Mike has so far been a lone voice. Those closest to Douglas, his family, Ed Victor his long time friend and literary agent, many of his former colleagues, the actor who played the original Marvin, to name but a few, all loved the movie.
Many of those who have weighed in online in support of Mike, cannot have seen the movie. I see three kinds of responses to Mike:
- Aaargh, confirms my worst fears, I am really nervous now
- I am quite capable of making up my own mind thank you
- a) I know Mike and don't always agree with him. b) I don't know this man but I don't think I agree with him!
My guess is that most fans will want to make up their own minds.
I am curious whether there is a plan for an extended or "director's cut" of this movie. We have heard a lot about scenes being in and out of various cuts, suggesting that many of the things long-time fans will miss in this movie may have been filmed. So, my joint questions: Are there plans in place to have an extended cut? and Are there any particular scenes that come to mind that you believe should be added back in?
RS: I think on this one you should look out for the DVD but behind your question may lie an assumption that I would like to take a look at. Garth is very happy with his final cut. He has not been forced by anybody to make cuts that he didn't want to make. There are some Guide Entries we created which didn't make the final cut and those will appear on the DVD ( along with some "fake" deleted scenes we shot specially for the DVD). Every time we shortened an entry it was to do with rhythm and pacing in that section of the movie, not with interference from "suits". There is maybe one line in there that I would love to see back but I'm not going to say which one, but I'm talking a line or two here, not whole scenes!
Follow-ups on the way?
by Turn-X Alphonse
Will the full trilogy (5 books) be made or is it being played by ear to see how the first goes?
RS: Let's see how much people enjoy this first one, but it's a big Galaxy out there....
While making the movie, did you ever start to panic and then see copy of the guide and realize, "Oh yeah, DON'T PANIC"?
RS: We all had that motto engraved on our hearts!